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November 21, 2018

Working group: See poverty stats


Even as you read this, a group of clever men — some of the cleverest in the country by some accounts — are busy crafting an elaborate document to guide us towards peace and prosperity in the years ahead.

This is the working group set up by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his former arch-rival, the veteran opposition leader (and former PM) Raila Odinga.

Top of the priorities for this group is to provide us with a path to ‘electoral justice’. By this we mean a new political dispensation in which our votes will actually count for something, and not be an exercise in futility even as the numbers are rigged behind closed doors to bring about a predetermined result.

Now it is true that currently there are attempts to portray Raila as a traitor to the opposition alliance, NASA. But I can think of many countries — including many neighboring countries — whose ordinary citizens devoutly wish that their top leaders would find it as easy to come to some compromise after bitter electoral contests, as Kenyan leaders seem to.

Take South Sudan, for example. Now that oil prices have again risen to a point where oil revenues can be expected to fund the country’s development programmes, you would think that it’s time for the average citizen of that country to sample ‘the fruits of independence’.

But instead all we hear are accusations of which group of Kenyans is selling weapons to South Sudan, as the rival militias prepare to settle their political differences on the battlefield.

Also, Uganda: Because President Yoweri Museveni was victorious in his ‘bush war’ and has since served as President for decades (with decades more to come, no doubt), it is easily forgotten that what led him to take to the bush in the first place was a rigged presidential election. Had Museveni and his troops not managed to win their battles all the way to Kampala, Uganda may well have been in for many years of civil war.

So, there is much to be said for a country where leaders manage to come together to chart a way forward, even though the President has no doubt that he won the presidency fair and square, while his rival in turn has no doubt that he was a victim of electoral fraud, and even has a Supreme Court decision to back his claim.

However, if indeed our leaders have a rare and valuable capacity to come to a political compromise in circumstances that would lead to civil war in some of these neighboring countries, they are sadly lacking in the even more rare and valuable capacity to make Kenya a prosperous nation. And hopefully, the Uhuru-Raila working group is giving some consideration to this tragic reality. For Kenya needs a new social contract rather badly.

Before I trot out the latest statistics supporting this claim, I should first remind the reader that the Nobel Prize-winning economist (and New York Times columnist) Paul Krugman once wrote that “All economic data are best viewed as a peculiarly boring genre of science fiction.”

So when the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics released its Integrated Household Budget Survey last week, it was worth bearing in mind that the authors may simply be presenting us with facetious guesswork.

Nonetheless, there were significant long-term trends revealed here.

Most significant was the trend captured in the newspaper headline, “Only 200,000 fewer Kenyans poor today than a decade ago.”

This was essentially an admission of profound economic policy failure. For where we often read of the millions who rise out of poverty annually among the nations of Asia, and especially in the Far East, here in Kenya just 20,000 people or so rise out of poverty every year.

The full extent of this tragedy is revealed when this number is juxtaposed with the fact that every year, 50,000 young Kenyans graduate from local universities.

What this means is that over half of those who graduate in any one year are doomed to poverty. That the previously-inviolate link between higher education and a good income has been broken.

And thus, that there is really no path out of poverty for the majority of poor Kenyan families.

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